Lewis Hamilton accused Formula One stewards of trying to stop him winning after being handed two five-second penalties in yesterday’s Russian Grand Prix.
The punishment for track violations before the race had even started, cost the six-time world champion the lead and the chance to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 Grand Prix triumphs, as the Mercedes driver finished third after starting in pole position, with teammate Valtteri Bottas taking full advantage of the world champion’s troubled day to claim the ninth win of his career.
Valtteri Bottas passed Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to take second place at the start and inherited the lead when the race leader took an extended pit stop to serve two five-second penalties for irregular pre-race practice starts.
A disappointed Hamilton rejoined in 11th place but fought back to finish third behind Verstappen. The charge gave entertainment to the 30,000 spectators, the first significant crowd at a sports event in the Covid-19 era.
“I’m pretty sure no one’s got two five-second penalties for something so ridiculous before,” Hamilton said.
“I didn’t put anyone in danger, I’ve done this at a million tracks over the years and never been questioned on it.”
The stewards also handed Hamilton two penalty points on his licence, leaving him two short of incurring a one-race ban triggered by 12 in a 12-month period. He will have to maintain a clean slate over the next four races until November’s Turkish Grand Prix.
Asked if the FIA stewards took the issue too far, he replied: “Of course it is. But it’s to be expected. They’re trying to stop me, aren’t they? But it’s OK. I just need to keep my head down and stay focused.”
Bottas’ second win in Russia and second this season reinvigorated his challenge for the drivers’ title and reduced Hamilton’s lead to 44 points. The Finn also collected a bonus point for fastest lap.
While Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff was happy for Bottas, he described Hamilton’s penalty as “far-fetched” and insisted that the driver gained no advantage by doing the start where he did.
Verstappen, who was pleased to split the two Silver Arrows, was also sympathetic.
“I mean if you cause a crash it’s different, right? But I think the penalty Lewis got was already painful enough,” said the Red Bull driver. “I mean OK, maybe it was not correct where he stopped, but penalty points for that? I’m not sure that’s correct.”